Since the early 1990s when Frisco High School was the lone campus, the Frisco Police Department has had an active School Resource Officer (SRO) Unit. As the city grew, new campuses were erected, and student populations rose, Frisco’s SRO Unit has remained dedicated to Frisco ISD.
Today, there are 31 School Resource Officers, including 3 Sergeants. All middle and high schools in Frisco ISD, plus special program centers have an SRO. Middle School SROs also maintain relationships with elementary schools.
What’s the purpose of the SRO Unit?
Are SRO’s on campus to provide oversight and policing of the students? Actually, no. Primarily, they’re on campus to support school safety. Friso Police Sergeant Chadd Springer explained that what began as the D.A.R.E. drug prevention initiative has evolved into a 3 pronged approach to building relationships with students.
SROs operate on a triad concept of being a law enforcement officer first, an informal counselor, and a guest speaker in classrooms. I would say being an informal counselor is our number one job. We spend a lot of time counseling kids on their behavior or, for example, if they have issues at home and they want to talk to someone they trust. It’s where a lot of where our time is spent.
— Frisco Police Sergeant Chadd Springer, SRO at Lebanon Trail High School
In addition to being a police officer, the SROs job is to be an informal counselor and guest speaker. They’re not there to be “the hammer”, explains Jeff Haynes, Lieutenant, SRO/Special Investigations. The officers are there to build chemistry with staff and students.
They’re present to help students out however they can, from answering questions about what’s happening in the news to understanding that interactions with police officers can and should be a positive experience. The presence of an SRO in the hallways and on campus can decrease students’ fear of the police.
It’s intimidating when you see a cop in a uniform when you’re 12 years old. The reason we have officers in uniform is because want them to relate the relationship they develop with their SRO to the interaction they have with an officer out in the streets. SRO’s love it when kids remember them years later and approach them to say hi, or better yet, show interest in applying for Frisco’s police department after they’ve graduated from FISD.
— Frisco Police Sergeant Chadd Springer
Furthermore, preventing school shootings is paramount. It’s critical to be tapped into the mental health of students. Sergeant Springer says they want to be able to understand what types of things are affecting students inside the school and outside the school and provide help before it reaches a dangerous point.
When promoting officers to the SRO Unit, the officer must demonstrate a stellar ability to communicate with children. Good communication enables the officer to discern threats as they interact with and talk with students on a daily basis.
For middle school campuses, SROs participate in a 6-8 week program, “It’s Party Time,” when officers come into classrooms for education about drugs. Officers discuss how decisions you make now can impact your life, all with the goal to prevent them from going into the criminal justice system.
For older students in high school, SROs offer voluntary adulting classes about things like how to change a tire and what to do if you are involved in a wreck.
As COVID-19 shifted school procedures to end the 2019-20 year and start the 2020-21 year, the SRO’s roles shifted a little as well. Instead of being on campus, officers needed to be ready and available as reserves in case patrol officers test positive. Their typical Monday – Friday schedule might shift to working deep nights.
The SROs were a supplemental force during the COVID-19-related pivots to our school system, plugging in as needed outside of their on-campus responsibilities. New on-campus responsibilities during school closures and virtual learning included working with campus administrators to help develop plans for demobilization logistics and device pickup.
In true Frisco fashion, the police department stepped up and leaned in to make the SRO Unit a priority when other districts have declined or eliminated similar programs.
Of the 220 sworn officers, Frisco’s 31-officer SRO Unit is considerable. The size and tenure of the unit show the high level of commitment from the police and the strong relationship with the district that withstands changes in leadership on both sides over the years.
The Police Department’s partnership with Frisco ISD is great. That partnership is what makes this program work.”
— Frisco Police Chief Shilson
He adds that after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT, while others were scrambling to revive or build programs, Frisco was already ahead of the curve.
Chief Shilson reminds us that the School Resource Officer Unit is a long-term investment with individual daily positive interactions that add up and make an impact over time. They see gains in recruitment as students are wanting to work for the Frisco Police Department.
Forming relationships is so important so students see their SRO as a positive example of what policing is first hand.
— Frisco Police Chief Shilson
If the goal is school safety, how do you measure and quantify what you prevent? SROs measure it in the relationships they build and by the numbers, more specifically by the reduction in the number of juvenile entries into the criminal justice system. “If you see numbers going down of juvenile prosecutions, that’s a win for everybody,” says Sergeant Springer.